A federal appeals court dealt a blow to the Pentagon’s vaccination mandate and denied the Biden administration‘s attempt to reintroduce the US Navy’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement.
On Monday, the U.S. 5th Circuit Circuit denied the Navy’s request to reinstate the U.S. Navy’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements, a month after a federal judge in Fort Worth stopped the mandate.
‘[Evidence] suggests that the Navy itself effectively stacked the deck against the exceptions, backed by the plaintiffs’ immediate commanding officers and military chaplains,” the three-judge panel said.
While the percentage of vaccinated active-duty personnel in each service is 95 percent or more, the number of unvaccinated personnel is nearly 30,000
According to the DoD, more than 1.62 million US military personnel are vaccinated
In November, dozens of US Navy SEALs claimed that they had been wrongly denied exemption from COVID vaccinations on religious grounds and that the Department of Defense mandate violated their First Amendment rights.
The troops sued the Department of Defense — along with President Joe Biden and senior military officials.
The lawsuit, which lists 35 unnamed military personnel, argues that the Pentagon is overstepping its bounds as a federal agency and violating their constitutional rights as the Navy requires them to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 28 — after a religious denied them became liberation.
In some cases, the lawsuit argues, SEALs are reportedly being threatened and in some cases pressured into complying with the request — and have also been flatly denied a religious exemption.
According to the filing, the SEALs behind the lawsuit are all Christian and oppose the mandate because it contradicts “their genuine religious beliefs.”
The plaintiffs include members of the Navy SEALs and Navy Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewmen, a US Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician and US Navy Divers, according to court documents.
They filed their lawsuit with the help of the First Liberty Institute, a Texas-based Christian rights group that regularly takes religious freedom cases.
The Navy itself has previously said it has not granted an exemption for any vaccine in the past seven years
The Army, the largest service in the U.S. military with 478,000 active-duty service members, reported the lowest number of service members requesting religious exemption compared to the other three smaller services — just over 1,700 service members
“Events around the world are a daily reminder that there are people trying to harm America. Our military should be welcoming of service members, not expelling them for their religious beliefs,” said Mike Berry, First Liberty Institute’s director of military affairs, in a statement following Monday’s ruling.
“The purge of worshipers is not only devastating to morale, it is also detrimental to America’s national security,” added Berry. “It is time for our military to fulfill their constitutional obligations and provide religious housing for military personnel with genuine religious objections to the vaccine. We are grateful that the Fifth Circuit denied the Navy’s application.”
Military branches and the COVID-19 vaccination mandate
United States Army
Deadline: December 15th
Percent vaccinated: 97%
Fired members: 3,300 threatened with dismissal
Deadline: November 28th
Percent vaccinated: 97%
Fired members: 45 since last week
US Air Force
Deadline: November 2nd
Percent vaccinated: 97.5%
Dismissed members: 64, including members in basic training
US Coast Guard
Deadline: November 22nd
Percent vaccinated: 95.3%, of which partially vaccinated
Dismissed Members: Unknown
Deadline: November 28th
Percent vaccinated: 96%, of which partially vaccinated
Dismissed members: 334
swell: Individual branches, Washington Post, US Naval Institute
Each military branch set its own deadline after Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued a memo in August calling for all military personnel to be vaccinated.
While the percentage of vaccinated active-duty personnel in each service is 95 percent or more, the number of unvaccinated personnel is nearly 30,000.
The Army, the largest service in the U.S. military with 478,000 active-duty service members, reported the lowest number of service members requesting religious exemption compared to the other three smaller services — just over 1,700 service members.
By comparison, there are more than 4,700 in the Air Force, 3,000 in the Marine Corps and 2,700 in the Navy applying for the rarely given religious exemptions, according to data released by the branches last week.
None of the applications have yet to be approved.
On December 16, the Marines announced they had fired 103 soldiers for not vaccinating. The army said it fired six people, including two commanding officers.
In January, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor of the Northern District of Texas issued an injunction in the lawsuit, saying there is “no COVID-19 First Amendment exemption” and that the pandemic does not give the government that License to ‘repeal these liberties.’
O’Connor sided with the troops, noting that 29 of the 35 military personnel had had their requests for religious exemptions denied and citing the process of obtaining a “theater”.
The Navy itself has previously said it has not granted an exemption for any vaccine in the past seven years.
“There are practically no religious exceptions to the vaccination requirement. For the past seven years, the Navy has not granted any religious exemption from any vaccination requirement,” O’Connor wrote.
The first shots fired from the military’s COVID-19 mandate began in December.
The Marines fired 103 members and the Army fired six, including two commanding officers.
The two Army officers commanded battalions on active duty.
Marine Cmdr. Lucian Kins, the executive officer of the destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill, became the first naval officer to be fired in December for refusing to vaccinate.
He reportedly requested a religious exemption from the military’s vaccination requirement, but was denied and appealed the decision.
Navy Spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Jason Fischer declined to give the exact reason for Kins’ firing over privacy concerns.
However, he explained that the reason for the dismissal was that Anderson lost confidence in Kins’ ability to carry out his duties after failing to comply with a lawful order.